282,643 Pages

Munitionettes were British women employed in munitions factories during the time of the first World War.

History[edit | edit source]

Early in the war, the United Kingdom's munitions industry found itself having difficulty producing the amount of weapons and ammunition needed by the country's armed forces. In response to this crisis, known as the Shell Crisis of 1915, the British government passed the Munitions of War Act in 1915 to increase government oversight and regulation of the industry. The newly created Ministry of Munitions regulated wages, hours and employment conditions in munitions factories. It also forced the factories to admit more women as employees, because so many of the nation's men were engaged in fighting in the war and male labour was in short supply. Consequently, between 1914 and the end of World War I, the number of women working in Britain's munitions industry increased from 212,000 to 950,000. By June 1917, roughly 80% of the weaponry and ammunition used by the British army during World War I was being made by munitionettes. Notably, women in the industry were paid on average less that half of what the men were paid.[1]

Health issues[edit | edit source]

Munitionettes worked with hazardous chemicals on a daily basis without proper gear to protect them. Many women worked with trinitrotoluene (TNT), and prolonged exposure to the sulfur turned the women's skin a yellow colour. The women whose skin was turned yellow were popularly called canary girls. Prolonged exposure to the chemicals also created serious health risks for the munitionettes. Exposure over a long period of time to chemicals such as TNT can cause severe harm to the immune system. People exposed to TNT can experience liver failure, anemia, and spleen enlargement; TNT can even affect women’s fertility.

Factory explosions[edit | edit source]

Another ever-present hazard of the munitionettes' work was the risk of explosion. On several occasions the explosives the women were working with ignited, injuring or killing the workers. Explosions at British munitions factories during World War I included the 1917 Silvertown explosion, in which 73 people were killed and over 400 injured, and a 1918 explosion at the National Shell Filling Factory, Chilwell, which killed over 130 workers.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. John Simkin. "Munitionettes". Spartacus Educational. http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Wmunitions.htm. Retrieved 15 January 2013. 
  • Cook, Bernard. Women and War: a Historical Encyclopedia from Antiquity to the Present, Volume 1: ABC-CLIO, 2006. Print.

Further reading[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.